When I lived in Scotland and had published my first novel, I was interviewed for one of my favourite radio shows, The Usual Suspects. Halfway through the interview, I was asked what my perfect day might entail. Being someone who loves to make plans, this was a thrilling question for me. I launched into a lengthy description of my perfect day, only to get to mid-afternoon and realise that I was not going to fit everything in and – worse – many of my desires were contradictory. As I recall, I wanted to lie in bed until ten am at the same time as waking early and hiking up a mountain. I wanted to write before dawn but also have brunch in bed. Lunch in the West End of Glasgow, but time for a cycle around Loch Lomond before afternoon tea…
The interviewer tried to move on to another question, but I was still paralysed by choice, trying to fit everything into my perfect day.
I hadn’t thought it through.
Writers are generally in charge of our own schedules. And we often spend time planning our perfect schedules, refining them, polishing the details. Philip Pullman had a shed in his garden with a lengthy desk which he began working at by ten am, after a café breakfast. Louise Doughty, author of Apple Tree Yard, catches the train to the British Library for opening hours, making notes on the way. American author Sarah Sentilles plans her schedule over a week, with days for writing and days for teaching – and plenty of time for walking. Her schedule also includes the genius move of spending Sunday evenings cooking for the week, so that her working day is tailed by good food without having to chop a single onion.
You are in charge of your time. It’s quite possible, probable even, that you are not in charge of all your time. There may be employers, children, elderly parents, community groups who require your time. But you are in control of large portions of your time.
Today, I encourage you to think about your perfect day, your perfect schedule. You can write it as a diary/calendar entry. Or perhaps it will be a more general weekly plan. Or, if you want to go wild, you could write as though you have been asked to tell readers your writing schedule – perhaps by The Guardian or The New Yorker. In any case, think about your perfect week. Build in time for food, time for exercise, time for writing and time for pondering.
Make writing, or the making of art, a critical element in this schedule. Whether its twenty minutes a day, or four mornings a week, plant it in the schedule.
Imagine yourself into this perfect day or this perfect week. Think about how you want it to feel.
And then, try it for one week.
Speaking of schedules, you might find that you hit some slumps over the next week or two (this is a version of what teachers call ‘the midweek slump!) – if that does happen, try to remind yourself of why this matters to you. Why do you want to write? Why does it matter?
When British writer Sue Gee was asked about her approaches to the writing of fiction this is what she said:
‘As with any other creative activity, I would say that there is simply nothing else in life which offers what such an endeavour can: a secret life coursing through your bloodstream, an entry into another world. In writing, whether alone with the page or screen – and when you’re away from them too, just thinking – it’s the wrestle with words, finding the voice – that style which is right for your material. It’s an engagement with something which is both mysterious and visceral, operating both in the mind and in the gut; something which both takes you away from yourself and demands that you engage yourself at the deepest level.’
A secret life coursing through your bloodstream, an entry to another world. What a pleasure, what a thrill, to have access to that.
This week in your daily writing time, what would it be like to set your timer for an extra five or ten minutes? To stay with that secret life a little longer?
Today’s prompt is…
Write about a mark on the skin…